Recently, Viewpoint Writer Hasan Khan advocated the legalization of Adderall for academic use, suggesting that neuroenhancers are the next logical step in harnessing technology to improve our lives. He argued that side effects of Adderall are rare with typical use, its performance-enhancing effects do not create competitive unfairness as do steroids in athletics and legalization would eventually lead to a drop in prices, making Adderall accessible to all. Yesterday, Brennan Edel addressed some flaws in that argument. I take issue another one of Khan’s assumptions. When Khan concludes, “only by decriminalizing neuroenhancers will society enter a new era of productivity,” he implies that such a new era is desirable for humanity. I disagree.
Although neuroenhancers are an exciting new frontier of technology, full of promise for their ability to make us more efficient humans, it seems unlikely they will allow us to be better people. We will not become individuals who are more satisfied with our self-conception and more willing to aid others. Rather, legalization and widespread use of neuroenhancers such as Adderall for study- and work-related purposes would negatively impact society in profound ways.
The ability to harness increased productivity would create an expectation from employers, peers, parents and professors that everyone would use the drug. Psychologically, it would be difficult to accept that one is not deemed capable enough to complete a task through his own abilities, but must rely on a drug to enable him to succeed. An employee or student who believes he may not deserve his accomplishments may suffer from a fear akin to Imposter Syndrome, causing him to dread, rather than enjoy, success. Achievements may be characterized by self-doubt, not pride.
How early on would we give students neuroenhancers? Even if illegal or discouraged for a particular age bracket, widespread access would cause neuroenhancers to become increasingly prevalent in high school years and earlier. A 2008 study by Nature magazine found that one-third of parents would feel pressured to administer neuroenhancers to their children if their children’s peers were using them. Even students without access would doubtlessly be aware of the widespread use of the drug, and how adults everywhere were more successful with the aid of Adderall. This emphasis on sheer productive output would hinder students’ appreciation of learning for its own sake — the very appreciation teachers aspire to foster.
The ability to increase one’s cognitive performance would also hurt the opposite end of the age spectrum: workers approaching retirement age. The cleverly titled article, “Can Adderall Save the Boomers?” speculated that neuroenhancers could keep older workers competitive with the millennials. Yet the fact that they could “keep up” would lead to the expectation (particularly with Social Security policymakers) that they stay in the workforce longer. Fewer workers retiring would make it more difficult for young people to enter the workforce, further increasing competition and the obligation to use neuroenhancers.
If workers and students adapted to a habit of extended and constant neuroenhancer use, appreciation for moderation and work-life balance would suffer. People would be extraordinarily productive, in part because they would rarely feel the desire to sleep, eat, or engage in “distracting” hobbies. Time spent with friends and family would feel like time wasted, as it isn’t inherently productive. We would see other people not as individuals, but as factors that could increase or decrease our productivity and aid or hurt our goals.
Interpersonal relationships would be further hindered by the mindset that neuroenhancer use encourages, as focus on one’s productive output could cause students and workers to lose sight of our value as people. People are not just flawed information processors whose ability to perform is hindered by human nature. While emotions and ideas may make us imperfect machines, they make us authentic. If one stops valuing these characteristics, it would be difficult to value the imperfect nature of others.
While a society that never profits from the theoretical benefits of universal use of neuroenhancers would undoubtedly achieve fewer scientific breakthroughs and have lengthier construction projects, its workers would be enabled to continue living authentic lives. This protection of humanity is a cause worth the forfeit of potential gains in productivity.
Elaine Harrington is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.